Patent troll sues iOS App Store developers over in-app transactions

Another day, another mess in the perilous world of software patents. In this case, however, it appears to be more of a David versus Ants case instead of David versus Goliath, Goliath being Apple. Apple's not the enemy of this newest patent litigation - if they were, they'd be able to fight off the David of this case in court. The ants we're talking about are small App Store developers who are being targeted by an unknown third party, over a mechanism that is provided by Apple - making in-app purchases.

The company in question is Lodsys, who received a portfolio of patents from an individual by the name of Dan Abelow. According to MacRumors, this patent in question was filed in 2003 and describes a rather vague way for systems to "[gather] information from units of a commodity across a network." The patent appears to describe a "Customer Design System" module built into a product that allows for vendors to adapt to customers' needs and supply changes on demand. Somehow, the idea of purchasing upgrades within an application falls under this huge definition.

An iOS developer seems to think so. In a statement made to MacRumors, the developer of Mix and Mash writes:

Our app, Mix & Mash, has the common model of a limited free, lite, version and a full version that contains all the features. We were told that the button that users click on to upgrade the app, or rather link to the full version on the app store was in breach of US patent no 7222078, we couldn't believe it, the upgrade button!?!

He's not the only one. Cult of Mac spotted the above tweet made by the developer of pCalc, James Thomson. Thomson was set to release a scaled-back free version of his application, like so many other developers have done in the App Store, but is forced to put those plans on hold as he deals with a lawsuit threat sent to him and other developers via FedEx.

Unfortunately, most of these developers simply do not have the funds to fight out a lawsuit, and definitely would not settle for paying a settlement over something they did not come up with. Some of these developers are approaching Apple for help.

Image Credit: Cult of Mac

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29 Comments

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Software patents are the biggest POS in the world.

"Hey, let's give this guy a patent for an IDEA and allow him to sue anyone who comes up with something kinda of close to it, LIKE A BUTTON THAT SAYS UPGRADE."

rtire said,
If the developer is based in the UK, can someone PLEASE tell me how he can be sued with a US patent????
I don't know much about international law, but if the developers intends to sell the product in the US, it can be held liable in this case.

ajua said,
I don't know much about international law, but if the developers intends to sell the product in the US, it can be held liable in this case.

as i know us patents doesn't work in russia, russian doesn't work in us. not sure about uk. but patents are being registered by local administration, not by international organization.

coth said,

as i know us patents doesn't work in russia, russian doesn't work in us. not sure about uk. but patents are being registered by local administration, not by international organization.

I can tell you for a fact that there are *no* international treaties in the world with regards to patents. Maybe if the App is sold in the US, then yeah maybe. But would a UK company have to listen to ruling made by a US court??

There is an exception for the EU, but it's more of a "bulk" registration more than anything (i.e. a suing party would have to sue in every EU country). But I digress.

This sounds a lot like MS threatening Android OEMs with patent litigation for patents that they may or may not own.

It's just gotten ridiculous at this point. Software patents need to die already.

Apple clearly need to jump on this otherwise it'll seriously affect their income.
I'd expect the apple execs to squash this even before it gets near a court.

this used to be a completely legitimate process in the past. you file a patent for a new device, control....etc. But it ultimately was bound to become blurry with lawyers not understanding the underlying implications or the product to begin with. E.g. Any patents on changing the GUI of an OS should be prohibited. Same with trademarks (iCan't stand them).

DerAusgewanderte said,
this used to be a completely legitimate process in the past. you file a patent for a new device, control....etc. But it ultimately was bound to become blurry with lawyers not understanding the underlying implications or the product to begin with. E.g. Any patents on changing the GUI of an OS should be prohibited. Same with trademarks (iCan't stand them).

The story goes that around the time they invented the printing press, they came up with the idea of (C) because someone(s) thought nobody would ever write another book without some sort of lock on making money from it. Patents apply that notion to R & D, & like anything else done by the gov, granting patents devolved from that original purpose under the watchful eyes of bureaucracy -- a lifeform with but one goal, ensuring it's never-ending survival, it didn't take long to figure out the more patent applications you process, the more bureaucrats you need to process them, the more $ budgeted, the more secure your universe. And whenever you have too much of any species, predators, viruses, scavengers, & parasites all appear on the scene to take advantage. Take your pick on where patent lawyers belong in that scheme. ;-)

The process of granting Trademarks OTOH I think would be harder to reform without hurting the average individual trying to make a go of it. One big reason people buy stuff is because they trust the seller &/or the brand. Without trademarks, unless the buyer knows the seller personally, you have neither. And while it should be possible to reform the patent process to be more than searching to see if someone's already thought up the same vague wording, how would you regulate to eliminate trademark trolls without hurting the individual who's doing the best they can in their spare time to build their brand? Get involved in a big project at your day job & you might not have time to do anything else for a year or two (or more) -- should you forfeit 5 years of earlier work because your trademark's been inactive?

DiamondFootprint said,
Welcome to America, SUE EVERYONE FOR EVERYTHING.

yep, lawyers here smelled the blood like sharks and are now specializing on suing people for anything related to patents and trademarks.

Funny that he is based in Scotland and US Patent Law does not apply in the UK or anywhere outside the US. So was the reason for this the hope that these people do not defend the case then when they go after others they can say they already have a judgement.

Obviously the law doesn't quite work like that but it makes the thread appear real. And lawyers wonder why they are hated so much.

He may be in Scotland but Apple is in the U.S. and Apple is who pays him for the purchases made in the App Store for his product. They can't go after his personal assets (unless they care to take it up in Scotland) but they can go after his Apple income or sue to shut down the app all together unless he pays them royalties.

JAGFin1 said,
And there's me thinking software patents were practically non-existent...

where have you been the past couple of years?

capr said,

where have you been the past couple of years?

Well seeing as I'm a trainee software engineer, people have always told me never to bother with software patents because courts here generally nullify them in cases like this.

JAGFin1 said,

Well seeing as I'm a trainee software engineer, people have always told me never to bother with software patents because courts here generally nullify them in cases like this.

until the lawyers figured this is a money making machine.

I personally have a patent on a page that displays information about the version of the software and it's authors but I'm still holding onto it - I'm sure I can innovate around it... perhaps call it "About".